The hustle and bustle of the city echoes in my ears as I reminisce about my semester abroad in London, England. The bright city lights are still so vivid in my mind. The feel of the night air as I left the theater every night still lingers and the people I met still play roles as characters in my dreams at night. I can’t help but wish sometimes that I could go back and relive that experience over again. It has been almost a year since I embarked on my journey to London, England for a semester abroad during my Junior year of college. It was a time of exploration and discovery about the world, about myself, and about the people I was traveling with. There is no experience quite like leaving your home for the first time to live in a different country with people you haven’t known for your entire life. You’re eating foods you’ve never had, and meeting people you’ve never even seen and seeing places that you’ve only ever read about in history books. However, as we travel and experience new things we become so involved in the process and the adventure that we can miss out on the true meaning of what it is we’re doing. Traveling holds purpose. Traveling is meant to inspire and to teach. And while we’re in the moment of excitement that purpose might be lost on us. That is why every night before I went to bed in London, and even now, in the U.S, I write briefly in my journal about any experience I had that day. It helps me to fully realize the importance of each event, each day, each hour that passes. I believe that traveling does wonders for the body, mind, and soul. It encourages us to grow, accept, and understand the world a little bit better than we did before
Growth happens in all kinds of ways. Your mind grows every time you learn a new piece of information. You grow physically as you get older and your soul will grow with every new person you meet and connection you make. Growth doesn’t just have to be about getting bigger in size though. It can be about becoming more worldly, more mature, and more loving. Traveling through England helped me grow as an individual, a friend and a student. I had a professor during my time there that would tell me, “The best way to get found is to get lost.” Of course she meant quite literally getting lost in the city was the best way to find your way around. However, her advice soon held a much deeper meaning for me. I realized that getting lost in life could quite possibly be the best way to find yourself. I would wander around the city for hours, having no set destination. That is when I felt like I was really traveling, when I was truly inspired. I could sit in Hyde park and watch the locals interacting or I could wander into a new coffee shop where the regulars sat with their usual order and a book or laptop. I think for traveling to work in the way that I express here, meaning, inspiring one to grow, accept, and understand the experiences must be authentic, and real, spontaneous even. Growth happens when your experiences are being expanded. Growth happens when you are being pushed outside of your comfort zone. If we continuously stayed within the parameters of our comfort zones we would never progress. Growth is all about our progression through life. Traveling can, even if it’s only to the next state, keep us in a dynamic state of change. Humans were not meant to stay stagnate. Humans are meant to change, to evolve, because as we evolve we tend to accept more. Our ideas change. Our thoughts blur and then become clear again. Then the cycle continues.
Acceptance means recognizing that there is not one right way to do something or one single way of thinking. Acceptance is letting go of our ethnocentric ideologies and recognizing the legitimacy of other ways of thinking. Traveling through London greatly increased my ability to accept what is. Before my adventures in England, I thought of myself as a very accepting person. I was open minded, and willing to accept the new. However, what I failed to realize was that acceptance happens when you experience something new. I have grown up, went to school, and I still return every summer to the same town that I was born in. My family traveled outside of the state every now and then to visit family, or take a mini vacation, but in reality I had been raised in the same place, with the same people, my entire life. There really wasn’t a need for me to accept anything new because there was nothing new coming into my life. The difference, I discovered, when I lived in London, was that I believed myself to be accepting because I accepted the idea of differences. But that was never put to the test. My mind was never challenged with differences in reality. It was all just ideas, abstract concepts almost. It wasn’t until I traveled to and across England that I began to realize what acceptance really means. I was faced with different people, foods, ways of thinking, even different words. And what I discovered, was that the more I accepted these differences the more I grew as a person.
None of this was accomplished on my own though. I think it is important to mention that the people you travel with are just as important to your growth as a traveler and a person as the new experiences are. I ventured to and around England with a very good friend of mine from college. She helped me along the way as much as I helped her. Traveling with someone can widen your experience times two because you not only learn from your own experiences but from their’s as well. I am a planner. I don’t particularly enjoy not knowing what is coming next. But what I learned and what my friends helped me learn was that part of traveling and a part of life was all about not knowing. It is about rolling with what comes next and enjoying every experience for what it is and that’s it. While traveling it is important to let those around you guide you. Letting go of the reins for a while and just galloping along can result in incredible experiences. So if you’re anything like me, another part of acceptance will be accepting the guidance of those around you because the people you surround yourself with often have the most to offer in experience.
As I traveled all around England, in big and small groups, with family, friends, or by myself I continued to grow and accept the world around me but maybe most importantly I began to understand the world a little bit better than I did before I left the U.S. The world is huge and the moment we realize what a small part we play in it, is a humbling experience. Seeing the world from a lens with a wider range then I was used to expanded my understanding of the world and how it works. I was suddenly thrust into this life where the more I saw the more I understood. Understanding the world is not an easy feat and I don’t pretend to fully grasp the complexities of our world. However, I do feel that I have gained a better understanding of both the good and bad and everything in between, from traveling. As we grow up, we tend to only see how people similar to us are treated by the world. Of course we see what is portrayed on the media and we hear what our parents and their friends tell us (or what we overhear them telling each other). But as we all know those sources are not necessarily accurate. When I traveled I was able to get a glimpse at other cultures and how they perceived the world which, at times, was vastly different, than what I was used to. I would listen to the English citizens speak on Speakers Corner in Hyde Park about religion, government, and society. I even stumbled upon a poetry slam where I listened to performers express their experiences with identity, love, and life. Often the best way to understand the world is through the experiences of those who are different than yourself.
Gustave Flaubert, a french writer once said, “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” These words are true in every sense. Even though traveling enlarges our minds, our hearts, and our souls we still are so tiny in comparison to the rest of the world. Traveling has only improved my life. Even the bad experiences helped me grow in some way or another. In order to grow, accept, and understand the world a little better one must travel and be faced with differences and challenges.We must expand ourselves.
Feature Image: BK, Creative Commons